Friday 15 March 2024

Life on The Weald - February 2024


Life on The Weald - February 2024

and at Home and in the kitchen 

After the wet autumn and December and the unpredictable, unsettled and changing January, things were beginning to look a bit more hopeful at the beginning of February and there was produce to be harvested as well as a lot of delayed preparation for spring planting. Unfortunately we did not experience the cold, dry February that we needed - globally the month turned out tobe the warmest February on record and as far as the UK was concerned one of the wettest.

2 Febuary
The early morning rain had stopped by midday and the afternoon was cloudy, with a high of 10C.  After removing the fleece there was sign of the most recently planted broad beans but also a few weeds that need to be removed.  I lifted a few of the remaining leeks, expecting them to be damaged by alium leaf miner but was pleasantly surprised that they were OK so I left the others in the ground. 

2 February - sign of broad beans (and weeds)

The broad beans sown in December and early January also seemed to be doing well
2 February - December and January sown broad beans

I top-dressed all the broad beans with a sprinkling of coffee grounds mixed with crushed egg shells which, hopefully, will act as slug deterrent as well as supplying nutrients to the soil.

With Sylvi's help I had removed the grass from what will be this year's potato patch.
This is the area where the squashes and courgettes had been growing last year and which had benefitted from a layer of cardboard covered with compost and manure early in 2023, so no "digging" was needed.  The clumps of grass were not couch grass and could be easily pulled out with light forking so there was minimal disturbance to the soil. In the next few weeks, before planting the potatoes, I will spread the contents of our compost bins which are in a pile on the edge of the bed.

2 February - The 2024 potato patch and compost pile

The nearby raised bed, where spinach had been growing last year, also had clumps of grass that need to be removed. The grass was easy but there had also been an invasion of raspberries which needed to be dug out.   There is also a threat of invasion of couch grass from the raspberry bed which will need to be tackled by digging up and replanting the raspberries whilst they are still dormant.

2 February -A raised bed in need of weeding

3 February
Saturday was another dry cloudy day with a high temperature of 10C so a good opportunity to continue the weeding and the tidying up and, with the help of Luke and our little chainsaw, removal of the lower branches from the apple tree, some of which were touching the ground as a result of being heavily ladened with fruit.

All the hard work was beginning to seem worthwhile as we were able to begin harvesting our early purple sprouting broccoli.  I had removed the central head from one advanced plant about a week ago to encourage the growth of side shoots and that had paid off.

3 February - purple sprouting broccoli

So I removed the head from a second plant, hoping for fresh shoots next week.

3 February - purple sprouting broccoli
central flower head for removal

3 February - Harvested broccoli

We also harvested the first of our forced rhubarb.

3 February - Rhubarb

4 February
Today was Brighton's Seedy Sunday, the UK's largest and longest running seed swap.  Not only was there an abundance of seeds on offer but a whole load of interesting stalls connected to horticulture, bio-diversity, wildlife etc.  Sylvi and I were volunteering on the Weald Allotment stall where our allotment shop was selling seed potatoes and we did a roaring trade.

4 February - Seedy Sunday

6 - 9 February
There was heavy rain all day on Tuesday 6th February but I ventured out in the evening for a meeting of the Allotment Association Committee.  it was a miserable, wet and wild night and the heavy rain continued for the next few days.

10 - 11 February
There were brief dry periods between the showers on Saturday but my dranddaughter, Tilly, was visiting for the weekend so no work was done on the plot.  That was a missed opportunity as Sunday was a clear day and would have been a good one for gardening.

12 February
Fortunately the dry spell continued and Monday was a clear bright sunny day.  Sylvi continued to trim the pruned appple branches - we will compost the little twiggy bits or add to the footpath mulch, and the branches will go to the shredder.

I planted out some Stuttgart  abd Rumba  onion sets and sowed a double row of Kelvedon Wonder peas and covered them all with fleece.

12 February - newly planted onions protected with fleece

I'm glad we took advantage of the sunny Monday as the next two days were again very wet with contuinuous drizzle and heavy mist.

15 February
Thursday saw another change in the weather with unusually high temperatures. Around this time of year we would expect it to be no higher than 10C but in some parts of the country it reached 16C and in Hove was 14C in the afternoon.

I planted some red onion sets, Red Baron  and Kramer  as well as a few Menhir and Biztro  shallots.

15 February - red onion sets planted

17 - 18 February
It was another wet but warm weekend!  I did venture to the allotment on Sunday but only to visit the shop to get some seed compost and vermiculite to prepare for seed sowing at home. I did manage to do a write-up for the Weald Allotment blog on seed sowing and the use of vermiculite and perlite.

Seed Sowing – Perlite or Vermiculite?

The Weald Shop has supplies of both

Now that we have begun the seed sowing season it’s time to think about sowing mediums.  It is important to remember that germinating seeds and seedlings need air around the roots as well as moisture.

One way of improving composts for sowing seeds or planting seedlings is the addition of perlite or vermiculite, both of which are inorganic compounds but both are natural materials and generally accepted for organic gardening. 

What’s the difference?


Perlite is a product formed from rapidly cooling magma (volcanic glass). It is light, bright white and is hard and porous.  It is made by heating magma until it pops like popcorn. Perlite allows water and air to penetrate but does not retain water.

Perlite is used as a soil additive to improve aeration and drainage.  If you see white particles within bought compost or potted plants it is possibly perlite (although it might be Styrofoam – extruded polystyrene foam, which most gardeners would not recommend).

Perlite can be very useful in improving aeration, drainage, and compaction in soils.  It is a particularly good additive for growing Cacti, non-cacti succulents, and epiphytes which prefer a drier growing medium. It is also a good additive for rooting cuttings from plants and is pH neutral


Vermiculite is a mineral (magnesium-aluminium-iron silicate) that is mined in several countries including the United States, Russia, China, South Africa, and Brazil.  Vermiculite is heated to expand its particles and can absorb up to 3 to 4 times its volume in water. Vermiculite also attracts and holds nutrients such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium (essential nutrients which are then slowly released to plant roots). Vermiculite is usually brownish to silver grey in colour and very lightweight.

It can be used as an additive to soilless growing mediums for its water retention and nutrient attraction properties. It is also pH neutral

It can be applied as a thin layer on top of seed starting mixes to retain moisture and prevent crusting of the top layer of soil, or mixed with compost/soil before sowing/planting.  It may not be suitable for some house-plants as it retains moisture which could result in root rot if over-watered. Vermiculite can also useful in storing bulbs/root vegetables etc. If a layer is placed around bulbs when storing it can absorb moisture and prevent mildew.

Vermiculite vs Perlite

As a general rule of thumb – use perlite when you want better drainage and aeration and vermiculite when you want more moisture retention – and of course you can use a mixture of the two.

Footnote: Both products are natural minerals and non-renewable and therefore not sustainable products but it is estimated that less than 1% of natural resources have been mined. Mining/extraction/refining will inevitable mean use of energy/fossil fuels and transportation and for this reason some gardeners may look to other products/methods.

There is also a useful guide on Gardeners’ World at

Posted by John Austin – 22 February 2024

19-24 February
Monday 19 was a very miserable day - full of Mizzle, a combonation of mist and fine drizzzle.  For the rest of the week there was more heavy rain.  I thought things had changed on Friday as it was bright and sunny early in the morning but that didn't last and there was more heavy rain in the afternoon.

25 February
Sunday was the Brighton Half Marathon and usually we go to cheer the runners on at the bottom of our road but as it had stopped raining I thought I ought to visit the plot.  

I lifted the few remaining leeks and thankfully they were pest and disease free.

25 February - leeks

25 February - Leek

There was also a plentiful supply of perpetual spinach which had over-wintered well.

25 February - PerpetualSpinach

The pond was loking healthy, but no sign of any frog, toad or newt spawn 😞

25 February - The Pond

I managed to harvest some more broccoli to go with the leeks for dinner.

25 February - broccoli

25 February - Leeks

26-28 February
I was up in London for various events on the Monday and Tuesday and on Wednesday at the josptal to see the hand-therapist following my recent operation.
But February wasn't over as it's a Leap Year!

29 February 
The extra day this month was little different from earlier ones - wet, wet, wet!

29 February - Path to the plot

Should I consider growing rice?

29 February - waterlogged approach

Far too wet to do anything on the plot do we indulged ourselves and went to the cinema.  Hoping for a few dry days in March - please!

John Austin

Hove, February 2024